Lion Tracking in QE National Park


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Africa » Uganda » Western Region » Queen Elizabeth NP
June 29th 2015
Published: June 29th 2015
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Somewhere during the last week, Dr. Seifert called saying he would like some more Napier grass and mentioned he still needed to put a radio collar on one of his lions. We couldn’t turn down an opportunity to dart a lion, so the following weekend we made plans to travel to Queen Elizabeth National Park again. We had our fingers crossed for better luck than last time and hoped we would get a chance to get our hands on wild lions.



Our initial plan was to leave after the field work on Friday, but that morning Dr. Seifert had an elephant emergency, postponing us a day. This turned out to probably be a good thing as we weren’t able to get a hold of our dog sitter for the weekend. That evening I was in the checkout line at the grocery store and saw another muzungu waiting a couple people behind me. She looked like she could probably be nice...

“Hey,” I turned to her, “do you happen to live at the MUST residence?”

“Um… yeah I do…” I think I may have caught her a little off guard.

“Do you also happen to like dogs?” I asked.

She quietly laughed, “yeah I do.”

“I live in the residence too. Would you like to stop and check in on a puppy we have right now?”

“Yeah! I love dogs!”

And just like that we had a dog sitter for the weekend.



This next little story is just to give you an idea of what it’s like doing anything here in Uganda. After the day in the field, Brendan (he’s tagging along to QE because Seifert would like him to talk to the locals about proper business strategies) and I went to pick up the Napier from NARO. NARO is another organization who VWB has worked with in the past and has the lab we used last year to run the brucella tests. I spoke with Dr. Joseph (a different Joseph) from NARO the day prior to make sure we would be able to pick some grass up and then again today to arrange a time for pick up. He said that the grass would be cut and ready for us at 2pm. Ok, seems simple enough. Since we were no longer planning on leaving that day we extended our time in the field so I pushed back the pick up time to 4pm. Again, everything was clear so in theory this should be ok. Brendan and I arrived at NARO around 4 to find no napier grass where I was told it would be. I called Joseph, he was at the bank and would call me back in “two minutes. One. Two.” When 15 minutes rolled by I called back to which he said he would call me back shortly. This happened a couple more times. He finally called and said that everyone at NARO went home already and that we should try talking to someone by the milking parlour. Alright. Somehow we locate the farm manager and he knows we were coming to get the grass. Excellent. He says grass would be coming soon and he sends someone to go get it. We wait. And wait. And wait. It has started to rain and thunderstorm. Eventually I’m tired of waiting so I go to find the farm manager; when I walk into his office he seems surprised to see me.

“I was just wondering when the grass was going to be here? We were supposed to
Lena's photographic vision for usLena's photographic vision for usLena's photographic vision for us

(We're lions hiding in the grass)
get it an hour ago.”

“It’s raining so they didn’t cut it yet.”

“I thought it was almost ready?”

“It was raining so we didn’t cut it. Maybe come pick it tomorrow instead?”

We were going to leave around 5 or 6am next day, so I told a small lie (technically it was the truth a few hours ago). “We were supposed to leave at 4pm today and we need to bring the grass to Queen Elizabeth. We need the grass now. Can you get someone to cut it for us?”

“Ok, ok. I call someone to pick it.”

And about an hour later we finally had the grass. This is how shit gets done (or doesn’t) here in Uganda.



Alright, back to the story. In the morning we all took off to QE bright and early. Along the way we picked up Susanne, another vet student and classmate of Brit and myself, who is doing the LCP program here. She’s staying with several other students from the U of S at Rugazi, which is a different placement site than the one I worked in last summer.



When we arrived Dr. Seifert told us that we would have to do the lions the following morning as he had more elephant issues to take care of; we could tag along so we didn’t mind. One of the elephants had a nasty, massive ulcer in the perineal region that he needed to tend to and take samples from it; if it was beyond repair, the elephant would have to be euthanized. Needless to say, we were all pretty amped to be a part of this!



We arrived close to the location where the elephant was last seen and two rangers went into the bush to locate exactly where he was. Dr. Seifert showed us his equipment, explained the medications he would be using, and taught us how to load a dart gun. Eventually the rangers returned; the elephant was lying down by the river, as they suspected, so Seifert went to immobilize it and we would follow after. It was too risky for us all to go with, as we were a big group and any noise could alarm the elephant, which could at best scare it away, or at worst, end in us getting trampled.



Almost four hours later we are still waiting with no word from Seifert. Lena’s talking about how badly she wants a Big Mac (an hourly occurrence here), but it’s making us all hungry, so Brendan goes back with the rangers to grab some sandwiches… leaving us completely alone, with no vehicle, waiting on the savanna. I sure hope a pack of elephants doesn’t wander this way. Or lions. Or who knows what else that could be nearby.



Brendan and the rangers eventually return and they heard from Seifert; the previous rangers in search of the elephant found the wrong one. We all hop in the back of the truck to do a quick search for the right one. Cruising around the bumpy, washboard land I am disappointed in two things: one, the right elephant is nowhere to be seen, and two, the complete lack of support my bra should be offering right now. I’m not sure which hurt more. Alas, we have bad luck again in QE, so hang our heads in defeat and make our way back to our dorms.



Following supper Brit and Lena head back to the dorms to get an early night’s sleep, while Brendan, Susanne and I stay out to have a couple beers (surprise, surprise). Not long after the girls left, I get a phone call from a slightly alarmed Brittany saying, “Hey, I just wanted to let you guys know that you shouldn’t walk back to the dorms. I think there is a leopard outside.” Whoa, equal parts cool and scary. “It growled at me when I tried to go to the bathroom. Could you guys maybe come drive me to the bathroom so I don’t have to walk?” We go immediately back to the dorms; leopards are so rare and almost impossible to see in QE. We all look through their dorm window and can faintly see the reflection of the eyes of the cat in the distance. And sure enough, the following day Seifert confirms that a leopard had been prowling the area last night.



It’s bright and early and we all pile into Seifert’s jeep to track the lions, and we spend most of the morning cruising around the park. I pick Seifert’s brain almost the entire time; I’m sure I’m annoying as hell, but this man has the
most fascinating stories so I can’t help myself! If I have half the stories he does by the time I’m his age I will consider my life complete. The tracker starts to beep as we approach closer and suddenly I can see the mane of a male lion in the distance. We slowly pull up and get within 10 metres of them! It’s a male and female, and Seifert explains that they are a mating pair so we will wait and watch them for a while to see if we can catch them in action. And then the magic happens! The male mounts the female, aggressively bites into her neck, and our cameras all furiously snap. How voyeuristic! So this is how it feels to be a pornographer? A couple humps later and he gets off (ha, see what I did there?). So quick - blink and you’ll miss it. Apparently, the mighty king of the jungle is a two-pump chump, I guess. Bummer. I’m more of an advocate for quality over quantity, but hey, that’s the lion’s prerogative. Seifert explains that their semen is incredibly dilute so they mate once every 20-30 minutes for about 5 days. We continue
to watch them and Lena asks if she can get out of the jeep and climb up on the roof with Brit and James, to which Seifert laughs and replies, “ha, you will not survive.” He drives the jeep a small distance away, the rest of the girls hop out and climb onto the roof and we make our way back to lions. It was incredible to be sitting in the open environment watching lions a few feet away.



After a while, we leave these two to do their business and continue our search for the lion that needs a collar. We learn that she currently doesn’t have a collar so we are essentially searching for a needle in a haystack and never locate her. We do see a young lion cub, many Cape buffalo, elephants, warthogs, hippos and very briefly a hyena, which is another rare sight in the park.



Although we didn’t get a chance to dart a lion, we at least got to see lions this time which is a step in the right direction. Maybe we’ll get the chance to go back and third times the charm?



Take care everyone! Next up, Tanzania!

(more pictures below)


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